Influential

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The poll closed at 11:59 p.m., ET, on April 16. When the dust cleared, our President edged out other global celebrities in a news magazine’s poll of the 100 most influential people of the year. With 5 percent of the total “yes” votes, the President pulled ahead of others like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook’s Liker in Chief Mark Zuckerberg. Incidentally, the President also roundly beat the spiritual leader of more than a billion souls all over the world—none other than the Pope.

In its web site, the magazine running the poll explains how the list will be finalized: “although [our] editors will choose the final list of honorees, we want readers to share their choices with us, as well.” The final list will have been released yesterday, April 20, which means that the President’s men are all either over the moon right now, or totally bummed out.

Despite publishing an earlier not-quite-a-disclaimer-more-of-a-just-saying-kind-of-thing statement—“Duterte has been known to use social media to promote his agenda and has reportedly paid people to push him to popularity online.”—I doubt that the magazine will cut the President out of the list entirely. There is, after all, no disputing his clout, although the magazine might hedge and say that it meant for the poll to measure global, as opposed to local, influence. Bottom line, the “readers” are just added input. The final say will be with the editors who will presumably draw on their years of experience and exposure to the currents of the world.

Still, as of this writing, I cannot help but wonder what all of this could mean. Assuming that the President is hailed as the most influential leader in the world today, what sort of strings come with the title?

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For one thing, I cannot imagine that the accolade should be treated as a license to do whatever seizes his fancy. Nor is it, in any conceivable way, a “double-O” designation. And the certificate it comes with almost certainly cannot be waved in the face of other nations looking to claim our rocks and ridges. Popularity contests, after all, carry no legal weight in public international law.

So, what’s it good for?

Well, bragging rights, for one thing. It’s not every day that a Filipino can ascend to such rarefied heights of status and celebrity. And when one does, it’s only right that the rest of the nation join the cheering.

For another, the President’s stellar showing highlights the power of the mobilized Filipino. This is what we can achieve when we unite behind one cause: we can outvote 1.2 billion Catholics! Even assuming that a percentage of those results can be conclusively dismissed as bot-votes, that’s still a massive number of people going out of their way to do something that will not get them any immediate or even tangible benefit (I can only hope that our registered voters can show the same passion in our elections).

And, inescapably, it’s good for doing good.

An influential leader can teach his people to be less accepting of corruption, especially when the corruption actually brings them personal benefit, simply by modeling this behavior himself. The great Ramon Magsaysay, the gold standard for this strategy, proved this to be very doable.

Or he can appeal to the values of the people he governs, rallying them to a cause and creating unity instead of perpetuating petty feuds and disagreements. But most of all, a leader who is truly influential can use his clout to inspire the nation into becoming more tolerant of dissent, less vindictive in victory, and more deeply dedicated to the institutions and mechanisms of democracy that have kept us a free people for more than three decades now.

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As always, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) awaits the wisdom of Congress in deciding whether to pass a bill postponing the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections yet again. So far, it would seem that the House leadership is intent on doing so, while the Senate appears to have reservations. At the end of the day, however, these early indications ultimately mean nothing. What matters is what will eventually come out of the legislative mill for the President to sign; all the rest will just be the rationalizations of politicians.